D Gregory Smith

No More Smear The Queer

Filed By D Gregory Smith | November 01, 2010 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: bullying, civil rights, gay rights, LGBT civil rights, LGBT rights, military, Shakespeare, strength, understanding

In a short note to me this weekend, my friend and colleague Brody Levesque shared a personal thought about this election cycle that smear-the-queer.jpgstopped me:

"I just cannot get over how hateful some of the rhetoric is this time out. In 31 years of being a political reporter, I can't remember seeing it this bad."

Wow. Maybe I'm becoming inured or cynical, or if I've been too busy defending my own turf to make comparisons. But, I wonder if he's right. When have we had stompings, regular threats of murder, bullying, rallies for hate, such blatant lies, ignorance in campaigns and reactionary forces being such a force in our country since the sixties? Maybe, but I don't remember it. Feel free to remind me.

What strikes me is the ease with which the populace has accepted this shit. How easy I accepted it. Hmmm. Let's look something up.

Etymology: Middle English, from Old English hete; akin to Old High German haz hate, Greek: kedos. care
Date: before 12th century; noun, intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury

See the word "fear"? Just hold onto it for a minute. I'm going to digress slightly, but we'll get back to this. Promise.

There is one thing that drives American culture more than anything else, and that thing is money.

The Complete Culture of Capitalism has some gruesome side-effects. People with a lot of money have influence and they get whatever they want with little or no accountability, and when they band together, they run the country (see Haliburton). The people with less money have very little influence and they rarely get what they want, even though they outnumber the rich. Why? Because the rich play the fear game.

They divide us into opposing groups: liberal and conservative, gay and straight, moral and immoral, rich and poor, urban and rural, Christian and heathen. They then teach us how to hate each other because our values are being threatened by "the other". They do that because they have the money to do it, and like a child pitting two divorced parents against each other in order to get what they want, they stand back and watch us fight. Smugly.

This fighting and drama is all a distraction from the real issue, which is, as you probably guessed - money. The only problem with the divorced parents and child analogy is this: the child is really a changeling, a cuckoo. It is not their child, not really their responsibility at all, but the masquerade has been conducted so well that, even when faced by the truth, the parents refuse to accept it.

It's a simple thing, but a complicated concept. Economics has more schools of thought that political science. But it made me wonder. On a single issue, fighting the gays, some friends of a friend casually wondered about the amount of money the Christian Right has spent over the last 3 decades - from Harvey Milk's election in 1977 to the present day. It became kind of a fun project for them, and they worked for a while and came up with a conservative figure (pun intended) of 1.4 billion. That goes from before Anita Bryant well beyond the opposition of Prop 8.

Well over a billion dollars. And that was a simple figure. Makes me wonder what a serious graduate student or economist could do with this project.

Almost one and a half billion dollars. That may or may not include pastor's salaries, plane tickets, gas, power bills, office supplies, etc. That to me, is a campaign to fight fear.

What exactly is fear? I think we take it for granted. Quite simply, fear is what happens when you think you're going to get something you don't want. That's what I'm going to point out. The Christian Right has given up civil discourse in favor of missionary zeal to fight something they think they won't want - and not only that, they have done it by lying. They perpetuate the ideology before the person. They have de-humanized "The Homosexuals" for a very simple reason: there is no need to be civil if gays are less than human. It becomes acceptable in schools to bully and "smear the queer." Do unto others doesn't count if you're not talking about real people. It becomes a moral imperative to be hateful and crue l- the irony of all ironies within a Christian context.

So what's our job? I think there are mainly two right now.

Show Them the Money

Facts are facts. I don't think the average American knows how much money has been spent in smearing the queer. Show the people in the pews exactly how much money they have spent in keeping other human beings down.

If polls are any indication, the number of people who want us to have equal rights are not outnumbered by those who don't. The naysayers are just spending more money. And they are spending it in the name of everyone they represent, with or without their permission. Local and national politicians, PACs, even entire denominations and corporations are contributing money to prevent equal rights. I think that if the people knew how much money was being spent in their name, it wouldn't happen so easily. Accountability would be more highly sought and touted.

8: The Mormon Proposition was on the right track, but it didn't go far enough. Prop 8 is just the latest and most widely publicized fight in over 40 years of political and social struggling. Our job is to call this funding what it is: prejudice and bigotry. And no matter how they try to hide this money (and hiding is just a way they show they know it's wrong) we must work to find it. (Where are you, gay economists and forensic accountants?)

Come Out

Come out as far as you feel you can, and support others when they come out. Reclaim our humanity in the eyes of our oppressors. Harvey Milk said this:

"I cannot prevent some people from feeling angry and frustrated and mad, but I hope they will take that frustration and that madness and instead of demonstrating or anything of that type, I would hope they would take the power and I would hope that five, ten, one hundred, a thousand would rise. I would like to see every gay doctor come out, every gay lawyer, every gay architect come out, stand up and let that world know. That would do more to end prejudice overnight than anybody would imagine. I urge them to do that, urge them to come out. Only that way will we start to achieve our rights."

We have to be real. We have to be human. Our job is to be visible, to be teachers, to show our families, our neighbors, our churches, our communities and our nation that we are not monsters. We are not the antichrist. We are human beings with feelings and families and jobs and faith. We know fear and pain and loss. We know joy and love and happiness. We are people who love. We are not a threat to anyone's marriage or faith or family. Personally, I think my most important jobs is to teach other human beings how to love what they do not understand.

This all boils down to the same thing: the unifying principle of humanity. Most people aren't interested in oppressing other people. Those that seem to be are lost in the rhetoric that LGBT's are not human beings. It's our job to show them that we are. Shakespeare wrote one of the first and most beautiful pleas for civil rights and equality in The Merchant Of Venice, when Shylock, a Jew, finally responds to the blatant prejudice of his day:

I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal'd by the same means, warm'd and cool'd by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, do we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.

Like Shylock, we have to continually remind the world of our humanity until any rhetoric to the contrary becomes powerless. Until Smear The Queer is no longer played on our playgrounds and in our elections. Unlike Shakespeare, I am not justifying revenge. In fact, I want just the opposite.

I'm suggesting militant understanding and sanity. Sanity through honesty, intelligence, perseverance and diligence. We have to stand up and speak when we're told to sit down and shut up. We have to rebuff the anger and fear with the truth. We have to. Now more than ever.

The most important candidate in this election is fear. And it's our job to oppose it and expose it for what it really is - a dehumanizing cuckoo.

The only thing we have to lose is our humanity.

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I wanted to add a few thoughts to the above article:

1. sometimes it isn't (physically) safe to come out.

What this means is that people with the following self-protective factors probably tend to come out more frequently: stable employment/economic empowerment, letters after their name or some level of higher education, family support, social support, actual proximity to safe physical spaces, and people who may not be at elevated risk for violence & social/institutional harassment or abuse due to skin color, gender/gender identity etc.

This may serve to create the impression that a certain demographic/demographics are The LGBT Community (the old trope of 'gay white male' is a good example) and that people who aren't out are not welcome in or already members of "LGBT Communities". Might this actually create a situation in which it becomes increasingly difficult for someone to become willing to come out, even if they acquire some of those protective factors?

This call for coming out can, and probably does, also make room for racial, class-based, and gender-based fissures to deepen. This ideology does nothing to challenge the racism & sexism that is present in some "LGBT Communities". It all feeds on itself in an endless circle.

2. Are we alone with each other?

Why not start pressing on our families, friends, neighbors, co-workers, employers, and other people in our lives to start coming out about their relationship(s) to us and our friends - to LGB/T people? Why not take a bit of the pressure off of people who have the most to lose, the most to risk, and probably the harsher negative consequences? If we are only capable to see "LGBT community" as people who self-identify as a member, we are doing ourselves a disservice. Further, we may be enacting internalized homophobia in some cases - despite evidence to the contray, we remain unwilling to trust anyone but ourselves to identify as part of our communities. This may be true for some of us, but for others of us it simply isn't. And we should be the ones who push on our non-LGBT community members to get it together and publicly come out in support of us. Not just of certain laws or ballot measures, but of us - as people. As family, friends etc. They owe it to us as much as we owe it to ourselves to ask it of them.

IF you haven't read it yet, pick up a copy of Sarah Schulman's book on familial homophobia, Ties That Bind. It is certainly relevant here.

3. Coming out ... as what?

"lesbian", "gay", "bisexual", "queer", "same-gender loving", "MSM" - there are hundreds of identifiers - all fraught in some way. They are all infused with their own set of political motivations and biases. They are empowering to some and limiting, degrading or pathologizing to others. They resonate with some communities - especially when the language/terminology originated in those communities, and they are resisted in other communities for a variety of reasons - and these reasons are not all due to internalized homophobia. Sometimes what some read as 'people on the DL' or 'afraid to come out' is really a political choice that proud people have made based on a variety of factors, all of which serve to empower that individual - and/or their communities.. What are we asking, really, when we ask everyone to "come out"?

4. Do we recognize the differences in "coming out" as L/G/B as opposed to trans-

I know that the "T" wasn't addressed in the article to which I am responding, however I want to just make a quick point - especially because in addition to identifying as some permutation of trans, folks also have a sexual orientation which might be relevant to the content of the article.

In a world in which declaring that "I a transgender woman" is heard as "I am a man in a dress" or "I am a man pretending to be a woman", what does "coming out" mean? It isn't even clear that it is possible to come out, or to have one's truth understood. Even less clear is the ethicalness of the clarion call to come out.

I love that you took the time to write this.

I also want to stress that I am not advocating ignoring personal safety when coming out- I simply believe that we can use comfort as an excuse not to come out. That's why I said:
"Come out as far as you feel you can, and support others when they come out. Reclaim our humanity in the eyes of our oppressors."

Your thoughts and questions add more to the humanizing dimension that's needed here.

It may be unpopular with some but it is my firm belief that without some manner of election reform, and campaign spending limits, the average person will get less and less of a voice in how the country will be run. The Supreme Court drove another nail in that coffin when their recent ruling in regard to Cooperate spending in political campaigns. Of course getting Politicians to craft laws to prevent such an assault on the liberty of the average person is about like having a Heroin Addict turn over a kilo of Heroin while jonesing for a fix.

That's exactly why we need to stand up and go to work.
The politicians are us- we elect them. We also need to hold them accountable. That often means holding on to an issue longer than they do- and keeping our passion about it and not losing hope.

Wait, if we're going to move beyond divide and conquer, does it mean that we have to try to work with homophobes to make this country better?

Also, are we allowed to complain that they started it?

Geez Alex, you crack me up. Of course we get to complain...

Seriously though, Gregory is talking about the social awarness side of a two-fold (or is that, bi-fold?) solution. Changing the narrative isn't easy, but it has to be done.

Politically, we can get involved at the local level and help identify, cultivate, nurture and promote candidates who believe we should all be treated equally.

We're liberals. Of course we get to complain. Often that's the only thing we do...

Silence can be a dangerous thing. For many individuals who are Gay they simply can not speak up due the harmful results that may occur.
Everyone has to evaluate their own situation and based on that determine how open, and in what situation, they can be. Being out since 1972, I can appreciate the fact that on the job and in the business world many Gays could not be open.

I greatly admire individuals who have come forward and spoken up; particularly regarding bullying.

Both my Partner and myself no longer accept the idea that if someone says something anti-Gay they are just joking. In the last several years, we have addressed to "the powers that be" anti-Gay jokes/comments made by comedians.

In general, we have been meet with excuses, rationalizations, justifications but we have spoken up. In our opinion, why is it acceptable to make comments about Gays in public that if said about any other group would be offensive?

Silence is no longer acceptable.

I've started my own personal campaign. I call it the "Say it to my face" campaign. When a religious leader or a politician says something about Gay people, I start trying to call. You can usually at least get someone on the staff of a politician, and sometimes you can even actually get the wingnuts on the phone.

I directly call them out for what they said. When they are speaking in abstract to their supporters, they certainly take a different tone than they do when speaking to an individual who has "respectfully" confronted them for their comment.

A favorite was calling Orrin Hatch's office after he said something about Gay's don't tithe, their religion is politics. I got in the staffer's butt a little and said, "you know, since the Senator can make up and say anyting he wants about me, why can't I do the same to him? What if I went to the media, and said the Senator and me had been engaged in a long term gay affair." The staff person said, (and I could see him trying to reach through the phone to take back the words as they came out) "Why would you stoop to his level."

Don't know that it accomplishes much, but I think if people have a fear they may have to actually answer for what they say/make up about someone else, they're less apt to say it in the first place.

I'd love to chat with an attorney sometime, and see why there couldn't be a class action lawsuit for slander or libel against some of these people. That could be really fun. Make Orrin Hatch prove that no gay person tithes.

I really like that. I'm gonna chew on it awhile....